Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Double Secret Disco Revolution
about ten seconds in 1998, Whit Stillman had the world loving disco again with
his wry The Last Days of Disco, but
then Mike Meyers had everyone hating it again when Studio 54 came out two months later. Jamie Kastner tries to make the music cool once
more, but he wildly overstates his case in The
Secret Disco Revolution (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
Kastner argues discos were a unique melting pot in American cultural history,
becoming the first place where people of all races and sexual orientations
danced the nights away in a hedonistic orgy of tolerance. There might be a kernel of something to that,
but he inflates it into a bizarre mock-secret history, in which the disco kids
battled the forces of the reactionary, rock & roll loving, racist
establishment. That’s right rockers, you’re
just the tools of the man. In doing so,
Kastner draws heavily from the work of former deejay turned professor Alice
Echolls, who often sounds like a caricature of publish-or-perish academia in
her many talking head segments.
there are some sharply telling interviews with the artists and producers who
defined the disco era, including Harry Wayne “KC” Casey, Robert “Kool” Bell, Maxine
Nightingale, and super-producer Tom Moulton.
However, original Village People band-member Felipe Rose really steals
the show, responding to Kastner’s questions with increasingly animated
than merely looking back on disco with nostalgia and affection, Kastner is
clearly trying to use it as a salvo in the culture war, even though reality
often does not fit his theories. It was
an inclusive time we hear, except for that velvet rope at Studio 54, which
became the epitome of class division.
Time and again, the performers and hangers-on deny there was any
political subtext to the music. Often,
they explicitly contradict Kastner’s narrative, asserting disco was a
non-political sphere to get away from the stagflation, malaise, and urban decay
of 1970’s New York.
an extent, Village People co-founder and co-producer Henri Belolo plays ball,
likening the spontaneous “disco sucks” movement to National Socialist book-burning,
but such hyperbole is not persuasive.
After all, Casablanca Records’ Larry Harris slyly confesses the label
rather enjoyed the Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, because they had to
buy records for it.
gimmicky dramatization of the “mysterious masterminds” supposedly behind the
disco revolution hardly bolsters the film’s credibility. Nor does the wildly over-the-top narration
help much either. The simple truth is
musical tastes changed in the 1980’s.
Tiring of records released by studio creations rather than bands, people
began to prefer authenticity in music. Ironically,
Punk would outlive disco, eventually going relatively mainstream. Wynton Marsalis launched a neo-classical
return to jazz’s bop-based acoustic roots, while old school rockers like Tina Turner
and Bruce Springsteen would release the biggest hits of their career in the
1980’s. There was nothing racist or
homophobic about such developments. In
fact, for musicians who rely on live gigs to pay the bills, this was all jolly
Despite its strange excesses, Secret has its entertaining moments. It is nice to see the performers finally get
the music documentary treatment.
Unfortunately, it comes with Kastner’s baggage-heavy polemics. Knowingly eccentric and erratic, The Secret Disco Revolution is recommended only for die-hard disco
fans when it opens this Friday (6/28) in New York at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Disco, Documentary